|By Carley Dangona
On Feb. 11, Hard Rock International representatives formally introduced themselves to the West Springfield Town Council. Left to right, Nelson Parker, head of Development for Hard Rock; Mark Rivers, president of The Bronson Companies; and Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition.
Reminder Publications photo by Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD At a special meeting of the Town Council on Feb. 11, the Eastern States Exposition (ESE) revealed its desire for a resort casino.
Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the ESE addressed the future of the organization if the casino is created in Springfield.
"It could have a very devastating impact on my organization," he said. "The competition to our trade shows could put us out of business year round. We are pursuing the resort casino as a means to secure our future."
Cassidy continued, "A partner of Hard Rock's magnitude ensures ESE many years to come. The grounds are a very capital-intensive property to maintain. This opportunity is something that we haven't seen in our lifetimes. I was born, raised and educated in this community. I am really very excited to be in the position to bring this opportunity to the voters of West Springfield."
Mark Rivers, president of The Bronson Companies, the developer of the project, began a preliminary discussion about traffic. He admitted that the best solution would be to create another entry to the location from streets other than Memorial Avenue.
The proposal included a 400-room hotel, a spa, a 200,000 square-foot casino, a Hard Rock Café and a 150,000 square-feet retail area. Other features included a permanent music memorabilia display, a 25,000 square-foot convention area and a music school.
Rivers; Nelson Parker, head of Development for Hard Rock; and Cassidy, made a brief PowerPoint presentation to the council before fielding questions. The overview included some new details about improving traffic in the area and reviewed the benefits of the proposed destination to West Springfield. During the discussion period, Rivers promised to uphold a constant dialogue with the council.
Addressing traffic, Rivers said, "First and foremost this issue has our undivided attention.
This [Massachusetts gaming] project is the only one that I have heard of so far that has offered to be the catalyst to solve the [traffic] issues. There are three reasons why we're motivated to create a solution: The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is going to require we do so, West Springfield is going to require us to do so and the customers need to know they will have access to the resort."
At the time of the presentation, no hard facts could be offered since the traffic studies are currently underway. Rivers stated that "significant capital investment" would be dedicated to the issue. He offered solutions the developers are considering to alleviate the traffic.
"We're looking at a number of different means [to resolve the traffic issue]," Rivers stated.
"These options are all on the table and in the depths of exploration. We believe we can provide resources, innovation and relief for the issue," he added.
Rivers emphasized that a "second means of ingress and egress into ESE apart from Memorial Avenue" is a main consideration. He cited the Agawam Avenue Extension and Circuit Avenue area as one point of research, stating that it's "not an exact route or proposed route, but there are some streets in that area that could relieve some of the pressure on Memorial Avenue."
Other ideas to resolve the issue included creating additional parking; off-site shuttle services; roadway enhancements to Memorial Avenue including upgraded surfacing, signals, turn lanes and landscaping; and improvements to the rotary at the Memorial Avenue Bridge.
Rivers noted that options to "provide relief to our neighbors in Agawam" are being considered near the west side bridge at the shared border, along Route 5 and around the south end bridge.
During the discussion period, Rivers reassured the council that he also supported open communication.
"Without a doubt the more info we can provide, the more listening we can do, the better for all of us," he stated. "We are happy to come before the council any time. I will provide a contact sheet of our whole team to the council. If any of your constituents want information, we're available for dialogue."
Rivers responded to questions about traffic from City Councilors John Sweeney and Lida Powell. He said, "We want to create a project that's shovel ready the traffic solution has to be in place. We're working around the clock. Using the Memorial Avenue rotary is one of the preferable options, but we need to define if it's a feasible one.'
Rivers estimated that the resort that could benefit the ESE and its community would generate $46,000 per year in taxes. He added that the goal is to create a "regional destination" that partners with small businesses to have "local providers for goods and services."
According to Rivers, the MGC should announce which companies are in the running for a casino in June. At the same time, a host agreement would be established between the cities and the developers that would be put on a ballot for voters to choose. If chosen, Hard Rock would seek to submit the request for proposal this fall along with the details of the project. He expects the MGC will award the licenses in February 2014. Given that timeline, he foresees the resort casino could be operation as early as 2016.
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